Pushing against a stiff political headwind, environmental activists and their allies are urging Maryland lawmakers to double down on the state's commitment to "clean" electricity.
As the General Assembly began its 90-day session in Annapolis this week, activists sporting handheld windmills rallied in front of the State House to press for legislation requiring that 40 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. The state's current goal is to have 20 percent by 2022.
Maryland utilities got about 10 percent of their power from renewable sources last year. While only halfway to the current goal, activists say the state is on track to reach it. They contend the threats posed by climate change require stronger action to reduce Maryland's reliance on electricity from fossil fuels.
Joined by labor, social justice, faith and some business leaders, renewable energy advocates also suggest the push would create jobs - nearly 2,000 building and installing solar arrays and more than 20,000 making and erecting wind turbines.
"A 40 percent renewable energy standard would make Maryland a national leader in clean energy and super-charge the market for good-paying clean energy jobs," said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a national nonpartisan business group. "Lawmakers should seize this opportunity for the good of the state's economy and its environment."
Sen. Brian J. Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat and chief sponsor of the legislation, noted that other states are pushing to promote more renewable energy. He was joined at the rally by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., another Montgomery County Democrat and Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat.
Clean-energy advocates face an uphill struggle, though, as Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan said during the election campaign that he doesn't believe consumers should be asked to pay more for renewable power.
Activists estimate the mandate would add less than $2 a month to household electricity bills. Democrats still control the Assembly, but GOP gains there have made many leery of pushing anything that would cost their constituents.
Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, which handles such legislation, suggested the bill faces extremely long odds against passage this year.
"I'm not saying it's not a worthy goal," said Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat. "The sooner we get off fossil fuels, the better. But we need to be realistic about it....Let's get closer to 20 before we start thinking about 40.
Advocates are undeterred, though, citing a poll they commissioned that indicates more than two-thirds of Maryland voters favor increasing renewable energy. And they note that the law setting the 20 percent goal was signed in 2004 by the last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.